FLORIDA: Diocese partners with Prisoners of Christ, Inc.

July 30, 2008

The Diocese of Florida is partnering with Prisoners of Christ, Inc. to provide spiritual care for ex-offenders, their loved ones and families of those currently incarcerated. Beginning Sunday, August 3, Jacksonville's Church of the Nativity will offer worship services where all are welcome, especially ex-offenders and families of those still incarcerated. "These are people who have been made to feel uncomfortable in many churches of all denominations," notes the Rev. Sandy Tull. "We want them to be able to worship feeling comfortable and accepted. We want to offer them a place to find a community and to feel loved." Noonday prayer will also be offered daily. "This kind of continuity can be especially helpful for those who are unemployed and/or struggling with addition," says Tull, one of four part-time clergy who will serve at Church of the Nativity. "We're all involved behind bars during the week." Tull is a member of the diocese's Commission on Prison and Related Ministry. According to the Commission's webpage, as of 2006 there are 30 prisons, 28 jails, 11 youth facilities, which house a combined total of more than 30,000 people in the Diocese of Florida, which encompasses 25 counties in northern Florida. Prisoners of Christ, Inc., based in Jacksonville, was founded in 1990 and is funded by private donations as well as the Florida legislature. Dan Palmer has served as its executive director since 2000. The other six members of the staff are former clients. According to Palmer, "We begin a relationship with the men we serve while they're still incarcerated. On the day of their release, we pick them up at the bus station and take them to a transition house where they'll live with other men in their situation for 10 weeks. In the meantime, we provide them with everything they need to regain entry into the community -- from 12-step programs to getting a social security number to job interviewing skills. The next step is to rent them a "Second-Chance" apartment for $75 a month for up to eight months." "Our holistic approach is going to be so well-supported by the Church of Nativity and the spiritual campus they're providing us. We're grateful and excited. I'm planning to worship there myself on Sunday." The partnership with the Diocese of Florida calls for Prisoners of Christ, Inc. to pay $10 a month in rent, and be responsible for the upkeep of the campus and utility bills. The fellowship hall will be used for administrative offices. Palmer is quick to add that the diocese will be replacing the roof soon -- "and I'm sure they'd welcome donations." "As far as we know, we're the only diocese that has been able to forge a partnership of this kind to serve this population," says Tull. "We hope other dioceses will be able to engage in similar programs." It's a privilege to serve these men," says Palmer. "They are literally starting a new life." -- The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton is correspondent for Provinces I and IV. She is based in Sandisfield, Massachusetts and Venice, Florida.